AIMAC 2017

I’m sitting in my Beijing hotel room, after a much needed swim, contemplating heading out into the smoggy, polluted, 34 degree heat of the city.  I’m doing a food tour tonight at 7pm – a wise move as the night time is much nicer than the afternoon – but I know I can’t laze around for a whole day.

There’s no reason for me to write up a report on my AIMAC 2017 experience, it’s not like I have to justify the funds received by UTS *grumble grumble*. But for a long time I saw this conference as the symbolic end to my time in academia, a good bye to the ideas of theory and the networks I’d built over the past 4 years.

Two years ago I sweated it out in 36 degree heat (with much less air conditioning than here) at AIMAC 2015.  You can read about my experiences here, here, here, here and here. (Gee I wrote a lot!)  AIMAC 2015 was a transformative experience for me, in the sense it not only introduced me to a community of academics and friends, but also exposed me to broader academic ideas and behaviours (the good and the bad.)

In some ways AIMAC 2017 could not compete, I am not as ‘young and impressionable’ academically as I was then.  The rude, hierarchical nature of the industry doesn’t surprise me, but is still just as offensive.  I had a groups of ready made friends, especially my current boss from Deakin and those I did the 2015 doctoral symposium with, so I was never without someone to talk to.

This conference for me was really about communicating my research, or a part of it, gauging a reaction and seeing where it might fit in the broader arts management constructs.  After day one I was in some ways a little flat, it didn’t excite me as I’d hoped.  I saw three leadership presentations and they were all very traditional and positivist in nature, which meant I was going to ruffle a few feathers.  It was nice, however, being able to provide advice and guidance to new researchers.  I remembered how I felt coming in two years earlier, so I made a point of offering all the support I could to those at their first academic conference.

Day two and I presented my paper.  I don’t think I presented as well as I would have liked, but it was still good.  Happily the audience loved it and I got a lot of really excellent feedback for the rest of the conference.  Importantly the facilitator, who was the editor of a journal, said he “looked forward to me book” (so do I!) and encouraged me to write up the theories of my work and potentially submit to his journal.  Also, a number of the scientific committee mentioned they had heard good things (even if they didn’t attend the paper) and had read the full submission, suggesting I was on the radar in some way.  I got excellent questions, one from a member of the scientific committee that suggested she agreed with my findings, and all in all I felt really proud.  It made me very focussed on four things: 1. not giving up about publication, 2. potentially, somehow, getting  international research opportunities to do a cross cultural analysis,  3. coming to AIMAC 2019 (which is in VENICE!) and 4. writing a really provocative paper or article on arts leadership theory and it’s need for critical expansion.

I was buoyed by that morning and the conference kicked up a notch for me then.  I saw some really good papers, particularly those that were a call to action about theoretical change. I learned the term “set jetting” as in visiting movie sets as tourism, and discussed post-series depression about the end of Harry Potter. I also met three Melbourne academics (of course) I hadn’t met before who immediately suggested they had work for me and threw business cards my way.  One was from Deakin and the others from Uni Melb, at MBS, which really interests me.

I have a feeling that my future work life might be varied and interesting. A number of opportunities, both academic and non-academic seem to be coming my way. This is exciting.  But it also highlights the role conferences like AIMAC have in building careers, and again raises issues of the economics of academia (as it is not cheap to do these things.)

While I’m not writing a travel post about Beijing on my other blog, or I haven’t planned to, I’ll mention that this has been so far a really easy experience.  I’m in a very nice hotel on the Peking University Campus, within walking distance to all we needed for the conference. All the food has been provided, and has been good to very good, and the hotel pool has been a godsend. Transport, taxis and metro, are great and relatively cheap. If only the weather/pollutions wasn’t so horrendous.

Anne and I did skip one late afternoon session to play hooky and wander through the Nanluogu Xiang, or Drum lane, one of the historical hutong areas. I might dispute it’s historical veracity as I’m pretty sure it was all rebuilt and more Disney than authentic.  But it was fun to be out in the city, get a street made jianbing for dinner and buy knick knacks.  As a group the conference also went to the 798 art district which was great, but I think we needed a day, not 2 hours.  But it’s a design store lovers paradise.

This afternoon I’m heading into Tiananmen Square to wander around, might do an audio tour I have about 1930s Peking, and then I start the eating adventure.  Tomorrow after a late checkout I’m spending my afternoon at the Summer Palace before heading to the airport and home.  (To repack for Europe on Monday!)

 

The economics of research

I just received an email from our Graduate Research School.  I had applied for, and been approved for, funding to support my attendance at a conference in China in a few weeks.  The funding wont cover the whole trip, mainly my airfare, but it was a reasonable level of support.  I consider this conference my potential academic swan-song.

It turns out, which I probably should have known, that you cannot receive funding if you are in the examination period. This means I will not receive the support that I had expected and budgeted for.  This isn’t a criticism of the Uni/Faculty, I should have realised, by reading the fine print, that this would be the case and based my application to attend an international conference on a realistic financial picture. I have finally got the time and the content to really showcase the outcomes of my research but ironically I lose the support I had relied on to go because I’m too far into my degree (it’s 2 weeks away so I can hardly withdraw now.)

All this has me thinking about the economics of undertaking a research degree. Other than my scholarship (which covered 2.5 years of a 4 year degree) I haven’t had any financial support from the government or University. I’m very grateful for this support, don’t get me wrong. Unlike many, I did a Masters by coursework that cost under $10,000 (significantly less), but most of the courses I see know in arts management are well in excess of $30,000.  My PhD technically cost me $300 per year (UTS admin fees.) I’ve personally paid to attend two conferences prior to this, one international and one interstate. It was through those events that I managed to secure contacts here in Melbourne that lead to a research assistant gig.

During the past 4 years, however, I was not supposed to work more than 8 hours a week.  I was fortunate enough to have a casual teaching position which gave me $10,000 a year (which I worked out equated to $5 per hour given the workload) , 2-day a week part time job for 6 months that paid less than what I earned when I went to Uni the first time (and that was the early 90s) and a RA contract that I’m still working on even though the money stopped in February.

Yet I’m in a very fortunate position.  I’ve had a secure career outside the arts/academia for a number of years and this has provided me with a buffer.  I’m also married to someone who works a corporate job. We are very privileged.  It is that privilege that has allowed me to spend 4 years doing this.

But now that my PhD is almost over (let’s not discuss results and revisions as I’m currently in a state of peak anxiety) I’m contemplating my future – vocationally, academically and financially.  The Uni that I have been engaged with here in Melbourne has expressed the idea I should apply for a post-doc.  Leaving aside the question as to whether this is something I want to do (and I’m not sure I do), it means I need to spend at least 12 months attempting to get solid publications out of my thesis in the hope I can then obtain a grant for a post-doc place.  That’s 12 months of work with no salary or wage of any kind and no guarantee of a job at the end of it. I’m not academically strong, I’ve worked damn hard to get this far, but I don’t see myself as having the stamina to aim for an academic career long term.

To build an academic career you need to publish.  You need to go to conferences.  You need to work outside your PhD (unless independently wealthy).  But even for someone as secure as myself this is a huge financial ask. For those who do not come from the same social-economic background as myself it is basically untenable (and I know the people in my cohort, so I know how narrow the economic background is.)

Being in the arts makes this even more challenging.  In this excellent article Becca Varcoe discusses the privilege of “doing what you love” and the impact economics has on the make up of arts organisations.  I know that gaining a PhD  in the arts has probably decreased my earning potential, not opened the door to a whole new career like it might if I’d been in business or technology. But at the same time the arts has to STOP EMPLOYING PEOPLE LIKE ME as the last thing it needs it another middle-class, white, middle-aged, Gorman wearing, statement jewellery buying person with a higher degree.

The system is just wrong. And the impact it has is broad.  Not only does academia suffer, students suffer for lack of good teachers, the arts suffers as it doesn’t reflect the community in which it operates, those in the system suffer economically and, increasingly, psychologically.

I don’t have the answers, other than to stop cutting higher education and a complete economic overhaul to reduce precarity of employment (a strong creative sector union option for those not in secure employment would be nice.)

I’ll just go back to writing my journal article that one day might secure me a job…..

Hallelujah: PhD Submission thoughts

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So there you have it.  3 years, 9 months (which I believe is pretty much average.)

I’m very conscious that it is far from over.  Every day I fluctuate in terms of my expected examiner mark, but I hope for 2 or 3 deep in my heart.  It would be great to be able to graduate this year, but I suspect, as graduations are in September/October, that I will end up graduating in 2018.  Which might be better, as those I am closest with at UTS will also likely be in that group. As I have 6 months on them (at another Uni) I was the first to submit.

Am I relieved? Yes, but I’ve really just transferred my anxiety to new points of focus.  Will I pass? What will the examiners say? (I think this will be contingent on which of my four nominated take the gig, 2 are arts management and 2 are critical leadership scholars.) Will I ever get a paid job again? (I’ve been rejected for 2 roles in the last month, but timing is an issue as I’m heading overseas shortly.) Do I want to continue with academia at all? (I was asked about a post-doc application recently, but I need to get some strong publications out before that is even worth seriously thinking about.) Will I ever get published?

Today is the first day I’ve had a chance to stop and think, I went straight from submission to a weekend away (learning to bake leavened bread) then a frantic rush getting a conference paper in last night.  This week I’m back working on some research with my local contacts and my mother arrives on Thursday (!!!)  There’s no real holiday planned until I head overseas in July.  Until then it is all about publications and my presentation to AIMAC in Beijing in June.

But what are the initial thoughts about my PhD journey (sorry, I hate that word but it is apt.)

  • Everything I was told at the start, about the need for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing support, was true. Listen to that early advice.
  • The networks I made in my first year, through orientation and workshops, were crucial to survival through the process.
  • The period of completing the first draft, from July to December 2016, was probably the toughest period I’ve ever had psychologically. I questioned every life decision I ever made, from career choices to my marriage.  I was so lost in the process I couldn’t separate the PhD pain from any thing else. Having a counsellor through that time would have helped.
  • Comparatively my PhD experience to date has been easy.  I haven’t had to work significant hours to support myself (though the work I did do, teaching, research work and with arts organisations, helped bolster me intellectually, financially and creatively), my marriage is intact (and I can’t say the same for all my peers), my health is good (I need to lose 12kg but that’s not life threatening) and those closest to me are well.  Speaking to colleagues I know how lucky I have been.
  • The time from the end of draft one to submission was actually sort of nice. Hard work but you could see the end and the the progress you were making.
  • Having a tough editor was frustrating, in the sense it took forever, but it has turned a very average document into one I hope will pass and I learned from him.
  • Every time I re-read the final draft I made changes. And half of those changes ended up mucking something else up.  One <enter> and everything goes pear-shaped.  I found missing periods on the first page on the LAST DAY.  It will never be perfect.
  • There’s always a new avenue to take.  This morning I just came across a 2008 paper by one of my potential examiners that would have been a vital addition. I can’t believe I didn’t find it before.  I have a strong suspicion this will bite me in the a** if she (or her peer) are the ones examining.  Reading it I felt sick with all the potential arguments I have left unaddressed. But it is what it is, you have to stop at some point.

I’m preparing myself for 7 months of limbo.  Holiday, revisions, attempting to publish and really thinking about my next career.  I want to be creative in my job search, while I will have a crack at publications and post-doc work, I’m not setting my heart on it.  But I can’t go back to earning $20 an hour in an arts job I’m over qualified for.  The PhD has taught me so much, my skills are far more advanced than they were 4 years ago.  I want to be able to use them in a context that suits my values.  (I’m very fortunate to have space to look, I’m supported.)

I’ll be back for a few more posts to communicate how it all worked out…before I draw a line under PhD 2017.

Guess what?

I’m touching base here out of no purpose other than a bit of boasting.

As of today I am well into draft three of my thesis, have an abstract underway and even have a title that no one has complained about.

I’ve even locked in a submission date.  I feel terrified and joyous at the same time.

It’s worth mentioning here, that after 3 years and 3 months, I finally have a research question.

THAT IS PRETTY EXCITING GUYS.

For the record:

What role do communities of practice play in the social construction of leadership identity in Australian arts and cultural workers?

I’ve just sent off a few things to my potential editor for background, have about 3 more weeks of work, and I’m going to send it to a few friends to read.  A UTS peer was horrified when I told her this yesterday, she couldn’t imaging giving her thesis to non-academics.   But really, don’t you want to positively impact your industry outside of academia? I know I do (cause it’s highly unlikely I’ll be working IN academia.)

Anyhow, happy Friday.  I’m heading to Adelaide to drink wine and read fiction.

 

 

A non-Phd request

Here’s the thing. Politics is all over social media, and there are a lot of people who just wish it would all go away. But, if you ever thought “how could they do that?” when reading about the Holocaust, well take a look at where we are today, right now, right here.
 
In fact, do me a favour, DO NOT LIKE THIS POST. Clicking like or writing some “you go girl”, “isn’t this awful” message on social media is not going to change a single thing. If you think, unlike our sad excuse for a government, that people should be treated with dignity and respect and you, like me, are terrified as to the events unfolding around us, then I ask of you this:
 
1. Subscribe to a newspaper or some form of journalism. Understanding what is happening in our world, despite the barrage of noise around us, has never been more important. (I’m not here to tell you which one, but if you think the Herald Sun meets this criteria then maybe this post isn’t for you.)
 
2. Call or write your political representatives and remind them, in the most forceful tones, that locking people up, refusing refugees a safe haven, calling people ‘illegals’ IS NOT ACCEPTABLE. Our spineless PM, Treasurer and Foreign Minister today became the first world leaders to publicly support (or at least not disavow) America’s #muslimban because we are the gold standard in racist, inhuman immigration policy. Our representatives must know that we won’t tolerate the rise of populist politics.
 
3. Make yourself visible. The days of slacktervism need to be over. March, protest, speak up. When those around you are quiet, fill the room with your disapproval.
 
4. Support those who are fighting for you. Whether it be the ACLU (who would have thought that we would love the lawyers so much) the ASRC or another group that fights the good fight, stop buying the odd coffee and GIVE THEM SOME MONEY OR TIME.
 
5. Use your consumer power. Boycott those who support the extreme right and support those making the world a better place. Do your research, follow the money. Know that your money makes a difference.
Be on the right side of history.

*head desk*

My inability to formulate a comprehensive research question is clearly indicative of my capacity to complete this PhD. Here’s my current thinking. Note, there is no one question.

The reluctant leaders: Constructing leadership identity in the Australian arts and cultural sector

My topic: The construction of leadership identity in the Australian arts and cultural sector.

My research problem:   As the arts and cultural sector has become a more visible contributor to the Australian economy there has been a renewed discussion about the importance of leadership within it.  While the organisational approaches to, and the relative effectiveness of, arts and cultural leadership have been debated both theoretically and within the media, we know little about how arts and cultural leaders construct their identity. Arts management approaches to leadership are built on functionalist assumptions of a positive relationship between individuals and leadership, but evidence suggests that this is not always the case.  Emerging leaders within the arts and cultural sector often have a complex, sometimes reluctant, relationship with their own leader identity and the concept of leadership.

My purpose: This research uses critical approaches to identity construction to examine nine disciplinary based communities of practice located within the Australian arts and cultural sector, analysing emerging leader identity development, identifying influences that contribute to identity work, exploring the issue of leadership reluctance and identifying the strategies that have emerged from within the communities that mitigate it.

My research questions:

  • What factors contribute to identity work of arts and cultural emerging leaders?
  • Are arts and cultural practitioners “reluctant leaders”, and if so why?
  • How do communities of practice contribute to positive construction of leadership identity?

Creative Labour and nearing the end (not that end, just 2016)

Today is likely to be the last (official) working day of 2016.  I’d like to say I’m in good shape for an early 2017 submission, but I suspect we’re talking the March/April range if I’m completely honest.  If things can be done and dusted by mid-year then I will be pretty happy.

It’s strange to think I’ve been doing nothing but working on this one piece of writing for a full 12-months.  I finished my transcription on January 2nd 2016 and here I am on December 22nd and it’s still a word salad of ideas.  80,000 coherent words doesn’t sounds like a lot, but damn it takes it out of you.

Today I need to write the last 1000 words or so of my ‘setting the scene’ or climate section.  This is a new addition that has taken me a lot longer than it should (as in a week), but yesterday I just fell into the zone and did 4,000 in a day (which I can honestly say has never, ever happened before.)  Today however….it’s 3:19pm and I haven’t started. To be fair I was at a funeral this morning.

Intellectually  I’m being spurred on by Angela McRobbie’s book Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries. I feel like this might be the missing piece of my larger puzzle.  McRobbie argues that the rise of the creative industries can be linked to the reduction of social democratic policies and focus on neo-liberalism of governments like the New Labour Blair government.  By encouraging the growth of creative labour, fuelled by increases in arts school intakes, the emergence of rave culture, technology change and globalisation governments essentially facilitated the destruction of collective approaches to labour (that is unions) by encouraging everyone individual to be creative AND entrepreneurial  and “follow their passion.” Studies have shown that managerial techniques aimed to increase worker satisfaction and engagement within organisations are used to decrease union membership, and what we are seeing in the flexible, gig or precariat economy is a similar thing.  Individual’s are encouraged to chase their creative dreams, start their own businesses, which leaves them not only 100% accountable for their own success or failure but removes any working welfare support they may have had.

While I’m not finished the book yet, it has made me very conscious of the the role that I have personally played in the similar structures emerging here in Australia.  Education providers are the starting point as they are encouraging entrepreneurship and the reality of the portfolio careers but teaching ‘creative skills’ without critiquing the system itself. I often despaired at the lack of politics in the art school I taught at, but didn’t really consider my own role in contributing to a system I increasingly don’t believe in.

Thesis wise it’s not only given me some good positioning data about the reality of creative work, but has provided some guts to my ideas about what communities of practice do for creative practitioners.  I have been arguing that communities of practice are not only sites of learning and identity formation for emerging leaders but that they provide psychosocial support and create a sense of career optimism.  Which they do, but it’s a bit theoretically light.  But taking MMcRobbie’s arguments I can see that communities of practice are also providing a barrier against the increasing neoliberal state of creative work.  They are, on a micro scale, a type of emotional welfare net.  So in effect they play two roles:

  1. For those in organisational settings they can be a buffer against identity regulation
  2. For those in the flexible gig economy they provide a type of support that is missing when there’s no collective body (like a union).

In both cases the coming together of like minded individuals to achieve a collective aim offers an antidote to the neoliberal ideas of individualism.

Yes I know this is a political stance, but I feel more energised when writing with a bit of politics behind me.  This is one of the problems I have with my thesis, I feel it lacks my voice.  I’m hoping that in this next re-write I can bring some passion to the project (even if readers don’t agree with me.)

Anyhow, off to write and I hope any readers have a good holiday season and a safe, productive new year.  Here’s to a successful, happy 2017 filled with Phd submissions and resulting graduations!